Ukraine First Lady pleads for mental health support
Olena Zelenska, Ukraine’s First Lady (Photo: BBC)

GENEVA, Switzerland (AFP)— Ukraine's First Lady on Monday urged the World Health Organization to help tackle the country's vast mental health crisis, warning that the effects of Russia's war could last for decades.

"Following what Ukrainians have experienced during the occupation, at the front, in bomb shelters, under shelling... they need rehabilitation in the same way as those who are physically wounded," Olena Zelenska told the WHO's annual assembly.

"The consequences of this war unfortunately will remain for years and decades," she said.

Zelenska made the address as her husband, President Volodymyr Zelensky, called for maximum sanctions against Russia in a speech via video-link at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

With the WHO's help, Zelenska said, Ukraine would be ready to take on "the battle for the mental health of our people".

"Russia's war has shown horrors we could not have imagined," she told the World Health Assembly in a video address.

"WHO is committed to protecting the most crucial human rights to life and health. Now they are both being violated in Ukraine."

She spoke about how the dangers of war were weighing on the everyday lives of civilians, as well as Ukraine's health system.

Currently, Zelenska said, "no Ukrainian, neither adult nor small children, can be sure that they will wake up tomorrow and a missile will not fly into their house."

"Doctors can't be sure that their ambulances will not be bombed on the way to reach the patient."

Zelenska pointed to the people who have been hiding from bombs and shelling in Kharkiv's subway system, some who haven't left since the beginning of the invasion three months ago.

"Not just hiding, they live there with children and pets," she said.

She urged the international community to help Ukraine as it focuses on mental health and the psychosocial well-being of conflict survivors.

"We have the ambition to do (this) quickly... so that along with the victory in the war, we will also gain this victory over the grief, shock and stress of our citizens."

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